I can distinctly recall looking down at the choices on my standardized tests under “Race/Ethnicity” and filling in almost every bubble. I was not even aware of which bubble defined me, yet I knew myself better than anyone else did. The correct answer would not change how I thought, how I behaved, who I was. So why did it matter? Why does it matter now?
Some might argue that the response is used as a metric. Believe me, I understand the importance of metrics. I am paid to analyze them as a financial analyst. I get it. Guess what. America is a melting pot. Any child that was born from parents of two different origins no longer fits into one of those bubbles.
Now the counterargument is, “choose the race/ethnicity you primarily identify with.” How does that help measure anything? This is why it really matters: because it helps someone else use preconceived notions to define you.
Those bubbles are not an accurate representation of a person. I will say it again: America is a melting pot. When filling in those bubbles leads to an inaccurate measure of so many in our population, why are we still using them as a metric?
Because America loves racial profiling.
Go ahead, try to think of a counterargument.
The question “What are you?” does not stop there. I am asked this by pretty much anyone who is getting to know me, and I can tell you the reason they ask because I have experienced and analyzed so many reactions when I answer. They ask because they want to see if their preconceived notions are correct, and if they are not, they want to put you into one of their other stereotype boxes.
If you do not fit into their boxes, they will question you. They will want to know why. The whole conversation is absolutely ridiculous. They see my olive complexion, curly hair, and body type and label me on those qualities. If they were asking because they actually wanted to know where those features originated from, I could tell them, but that’s not why they ask. They want to know which box to put me in.
I am not passing off blame. We all do this, and we do it with many different metrics. Take age, for example. “How old are you?” has become a question that is considered rude. Why is that? Because we do not want others’ preconceived notions affecting how we are already perceived. What about a person really matters? How do you really know someone? By labels and stereotypes or by their values and behaviors?
Maybe it’s time for us to start focusing on more important things. When did we become defined by a list of oversimplified facts?
Stop asking about and stop focusing on age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, political party, etc. and see what happens. You might actually get to know people better when you consider life outside of your limited scope of knowledge and preconceived notions. If everyone is unique, maybe we should start acting like it. Let us change the way we communicate, the way we learn, the way we act, the way we live.
I challenge you to stop asking, “What are you?” and start asking, “Who are you?”